Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 393. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>  From: Jascha Kessler <firstname.lastname@example.org> (71) Subject: Re: 14.0389 cognitive connections?  From: "Osher Doctorow" <email@example.com> (46) Subject: Is the problem in complexity or in ourselves? -------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 06:55:14 +0100 From: Jascha Kessler <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: 14.0389 cognitive connections? I think Randall meant to write "decry," and not "descry," for the latter means to "make out" or "discern," a meaning a bit off his context, if close to a pun. I am not myself altogether happy with the "challenge/response" generalization, since it seems to me, or to anyone who has ever worked with his or her own infant from the hour of birth, rather obvious for animal behavior, stimulus and response today being a notion that might well fit into the probabilistics of evolution, starting at the gross molecular organization...as we know now from the rapid variations in even such a primitive or rudimentary life as that of the HIV virus. On the level of ordinary human activity, I have favored the notion, and suggested it to students of literature, that the human animal is, philosophically speaking, born deficient...not only in the commonly understood sense of being born unable to fend for itself for years and years, unlike a foal that stands and walks in an hour or so, or a deer, since those creatures have to run to survive the waiting predators...but in the sense that it seems, perhaps before the first great achievement, fire-making, we need prosthetic devices. Perhaps beginning with a loin cloth...? Did the buck naked Aborigines of Australia always live that way? or did they lose clothing after entering that continent? Or the naked Tierra del Fuego folks? In short, the prosthesis, or devices we make and apply, beginning with fire and tools for hunting and slaughtering and digging grubs, have been with us, as technological objects of our making from the very first, it would seem. A hurled rock is one thing to catch a rabbit with; a slung rock is a most potent device. But the sling itself is first made, from whatever. Our very defective form of being has led us to where we are...and one need only imagine being dropped off naked in Tierra del Fuego to begin to understand our helplessness. I recall an adventure in the last decade when a man and woman were indeed deliberately left off in northern Australia, was it? It made a fascinating book. But they already had 1 million years of experience behind them, and knew what to try to make. Etc. Cordially, Jascha Kessler Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA Telephone: (310) 393-4648 (9:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. PST) Fax: (360) 838-8589/VoiceMail 24 hours (360) 838-8589 http://www.english.ucla.edu/jkessler/ http://www.xlibris.com http://jaschakessler.homestead.com/ http://www.mcphersonco.com > From: Humanist Discussion Group <email@example.com> (by way > of Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>) > Reply-To: email@example.com > Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 09:16:16 +0100 > To: Humanist Discussion Group <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU> > > > > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 389. > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/> > > > > Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 08:53:47 +0100 > From: Randall Pierce <firstname.lastname@example.org> > Subject: Jascha Kessler and Science Fiction > > Mr. Kessler's observations about the rise of technology were very > interesting. This leads me to ask Mr. Kessler if the thinks the > challenge and response theory of "human progress" is the preeminent one > in human develpment. Although technology and economics play a very > important part in human development, I would not descry the place that > psychology, both "normal' and "abnormal" have had. I would think that > the role of hyper-text technology will make available so many "obscure" > works which have seldom seen the light of day. Some of these works have > not been made generally available due to the outre nature of the > material, but because of the ability of modern information technology > to make so much so generally available to great numbers of > researchers, I wonder how many "cognitive connections" can be made by > synthesizing seemingly disparate bodies of information? Randall > -------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 06:55:36 +0100 From: "Osher Doctorow" <email@example.com> Subject: Is the problem in complexity or in ourselves? I thank WM for his invaluable suggestions, although he is not responsible for any errors which I may make in the following. Many people now believe that the universe is infinitely more complex than we thought a few years ago, and Godel's proofs in mathematical logic even indicated something amiss in mathematics as long ago as the 1930s. Quantum entanglement, chaos, the bizarre human events in history in the last 100 years, lead many people to conclude that mathematics and physics and humanities have in common only their inability to really comprehend the deepest levels of reality or unreality. Modernism, postmodernism, and even the Law of the Jungle seem to make a step by step analysis of everything implausible in its old sense - especially for the humanities, but analogously for the sciences. We are warned against small simplifying steps because computer simulated life is so very complicated/complex. Yet I beg to differ. In recent weeks I have attacked problems more complicated than complexity in computers, and if I may defer references for those who want them, I have solved them mostly by changing tiny assumptions and tiny operations. David Hilbert, the German mathematician, did something similar around the turn of the century (around 1900) when he created a program for mathematics and physics for the whole century with his famous 23 unsolved problems. Most of his program was successful in setting trends, but some of it failed because of Godel's proofs in mathematical logic that, roughly speaking, we can't prove everything in mathematics or even arithmetic. As a probability theorist and mathematical logician, you might expect that I would defend Godel strongly and give up on Hilbert. However, Hilbert and Godel were both creative geniuses who specialized in changing assumptions in small steps. It is actually a very big step to change an assumption, unlike changing pages in a notebook. Marx assumed that the working class would inevitably triumph, Adam Smith assumed that capital would inevitably triumph, Shakespeare assumed that the world was a stage, and Socrates assumed that everything could be dissected into its meanings/assumptions/foundations. The Catholic Church assumes that the Pope is infallible, the Anglican Church assumes that the Pope is not infallible. The word "not" has changed, a small change in one word from a proposition and sentence. To me, complexity and chaos and quantum entanglement and human history and art and music and all the rest are windmills. I think that I have a new insight into Cervantes' Don Quixote. If you believe in step by step conquest of the worlds, then go out and conquer them one by one. Let others theorize about the unconquerable and shake their heads in despair. For you, all you can do is to go one step at a time into creative genius, changing a little axiom here, a little definition there, clarifying a meaning somewhere, clarifying a relationship somewhere, changing an operation or a connection or an inference or a way of perceiving or of recording. Let others laugh, deride, and despair of your future, sailing rapidly ahead on their computerized or wooden ships. If all you create is a book that is treasured through the ages, or a thought that is imprinted in all time, and a knowing smile that continues like the windmills, you have won, not lost. Then you are the Man or the Woman from La Mancha.
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